TMACOG talks smart mobility, mass transit

By Roger LaPointe -

Vehicles without drivers and streets without parking were part of an autonomous vehicles program that was presented at the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ Smart Transportation and Innovative Mobility Committee virtual meeting on Nov. 19.

“Think of our airports,” said Chris Hermann from the MKSK planning firm, as he showed a slide highlighting the congestion and chaos of a standard drop-off area at a major airport. “This cannot be our future streetscape.”

Hermann’s keynote presentation on the potentially profound effects autonomous vehicles will have on cities hit on both the benefits — and possible potholes — that smart transportation can run into.

Hermann also showed a scene, well known to parents, of the pick-up and drop-off areas at a school. Stuck in an endless snaking line of cars, the photo showed a visibly frustrated woman who in the process of dropping off her children at school.

Autonomous vehicles could change that, he said.

However, he added that human behavior is difficult to anticipate. He brought up several incidents, such as accidents involving human interactions with vehicles utilizing self-driving technologies from both Tesla and Uber. There have also been incidents where people stepped directly in front of AV cars.

Hermann was not all negative, listing off numerous potential benefits, including improvements in safety and increased autonomy for the elderly, handicapped, children and those who cannot afford cars.

Despite all the advantages of automated vehicles, Hermann stressed the importance of continued investment in mass transit and that it should not be replaced by AV investments.

“[Mass transit] is still most efficient for our urban environments,” Hermann said, illustrating the point with a graphic showing 50 individual sedan type vehicles, which equal the same urban transit capacity as a single bus.

The audience for the event was transportation planners and designers,

The beginnings are already being planned for the current Toledo road system.

The potential for investment exists. Self driving technology vehicles and road systems are not just the stuff of futurists. In 2016 there was a $40 million Department of Transportation grant and $10 million grant from Vulcan Inc. that some say has been parlayed into an estimated $500 million investment in AV technology in Columbus. The investment was called the Smart City Challenge. It has resulted in AV bus routes in some sections of the city, with related changes to the infrastructure.

A legislative agenda for the Toledo area, covering 2021-22, was released in October by TMACOG.

It includes a section on autonomous and connected vehicles. It defines autonomous vehicles as: “a vehicle capable of sensing its environment and operating without human involvement.” It then references the Society of Automotive Engineers six levels of driving automation, which range from no assistance to fully automated. Connected vehicles use a combination of technologies “giving vehicles the ability to identify threats and hazards on the roadway and communicate this information over wireless networks to give drivers alerts and warnings.”

TMACOG is pushing for an Interstate 475 Smart Transportation Corridor Project. It would be based around cellular technology that could be the basis for future AV or connected vehicle projects. The project targets emergency management and construction safety for the early stages.

TMACOG literature states that “Connected infrastructure will allow traffic management operators to dynamically change and update intelligent transportation system assets to facilitate and expedite delivering real time information to roadway users.”

Hermann’s presentation warned that the AV concept will be a “disruptive technology,” and that “We do not know or fully understand all of the potential impacts or consequences at this point in time.”

His recommendations for AV included:

• Focus on testing and improving technology

• Lower speeds

• Fixed routes – known and less conflicts

• Require an operator

He also suggested monitoring technology to “thoughtfully prepare for the varied outcomes and evaluate and adjust our plans and policies as new data and insight is gained.”

By Roger LaPointe